Fire in South Korean rocket facility

South Korea today reported that a fire had broken out in its Naro Space Center during work on a turbopump for a next generation rocket.

The fire started at 3:25 p.m. Tuesday at the Naro Space Center in the country’s southern coastal village of Goheung and was extinguished about an hour later, according to the Ministry of Science and ICT. The ministry said some experimental equipment was affected by the fire but reported no injuries.

The fire broke out while researchers were conducting an experiment to develop a 10-ton turbopump that injects fuel into an engine for a new space rocket, codenamed KSLV-III.

The KSLV-III will be an upgrade of the KSLV-II, also called Nuri, which has a launch scheduled right now in May. The KSLV-III is part of a $1.6 billion government project to develop this new rocket by 2032.

South Korea officially cancels Russian launch contract, signs Vega-C instead

South Korea yesterday officially announced that it has canceled a Russian contract that was supposed to use an Angara rocket to launch a multi-purpose satellite last year and signed a deal with Arianespace to use the Vega-C rocket instead.

The cancellation appears directly because of the sanctions against Russia due to its invasion of the Ukraine. Picking the Vega-C as a replacement at this moment however seems a strange choice, considering its last launch was a failure and it has failed three times in the last eight launches. I suspect Arianespace gave South Korea an extremely good price.

Meanwhile, South Korean officials still seem willing to continue another Russian launch contract, using a Soyuz-2 rocket launching from Kazakhstan. According to the article, officials are right now merely negotiating a launch date.

American camera snaps picture of shadowed floor of Shackleton crater

floor of Shackleton Crater
Click for original image.

Using ShadowCam, a NASA-funded camera designed to take high resolution images of the permanently shadowed regions on the Moon, scientists have snapped the first picture of shadowed floor of Shackleton crater.

That image, reduced to post here, is to the right. I have added some labels to clarify what we are seeing. The arrow points to a boulder track caused when the boulder rolled down the crater rim slope.

The camera will be used to image the moon’s permanently shadowed regions with a resolution of better than 6.6 feet (2 meters) per pixel

ShadowCam is one of six instruments on the South Korean lunar orbiter, Danuri, which is now in lunar orbit and beginning its science phase. This was therefore only a successful test image to make sure the camera was working as planned.

Though the area photographed was in shadow (otherwise it would have saturated ShadowCam’s sensitive camera), this first image appears to show no ice at the base of the crater. This simply could be that this part of the crater floor is not permanently shadowed, but gets illuminated enough to melt off any ice. Or it could be that no ice exists in these places. We need to wait and see.

South Korea test flies a solid-fueled missile

South Korea has successfully completed the second test flight of a solid-fueled missile.

The test came after North Korea claimed earlier this month to have staged a test of a “high-thrust, solid-fuel” rocket motor to develop a “new-type” strategic weapon system.

…In March, the state-run Agency for Defense Development carried out the first test of an indigenous solid-fuel space rocket at a testing site in Taean, 150 kilometers southwest of Seoul, to confirm its capabilities.

The rocket is designed to put a small satellite into a low Earth orbit for surveillance operations. Compared with liquid-fuel space vehicles, solid-fuel ones are known to be usually simpler and more cost-effective to launch.

South Korea might claim this rocket is intended for launching smallsats, but its main purpose almost certainly is as a military missile to counter the missile program of North Korea that has accelerated since Joe Biden became president.

South Korean rocket startup to launch suborbital test rocket

Innospace, a South Korean rocket startup, hopes tomorrow to complete the first suborbital launch of its Hanbit-TLV test rocket from Brazil.

The Sejong-based company aims to develop Korea’s first private commercial satellite launcher, the Hanbit-Nano, with data collected from the test launch. Hanbit-Nano will be a two-stage rocket equipped with a 15-ton-thrust hybrid engine, powered by solid fuel and liquid oxidizer.

Originally scheduled for 6 a.m., Monday, the test launch of the Hanbit-TLV rocket was delayed by a day due to unexpected rain and inclement weather. Innospace said that the launch window is open until Wednesday.

The launch will also be a significant event for Brazil’s Alcântara Launch Center, which is trying to attract commercial rocket companies to use it.

South Korea’s Danuri orbiter enters lunar orbit

South Korea’s first lunar orbiter, dubbed Danuri, has successfully entered lunar orbit after a four-month journey designed to save fuel and weight.

The Danuri spacecraft was expected to begin entering lunar orbit at on Friday (Dec. 17) at 2:45 p.m. EST (1945 GMT, 2:45 a.m. Dec. 17 in South Korea), according to a statement (opens in new tab) from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI). The maneuver, the first of five planned engine burns through Dec. 28 to refine Danuri’s orbit around the moon, will clear the way for the probe to get started on its lunar science objectives.

Danuri, also known as the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO), began its long and circuitous journey to the moon on Aug. 4, launching on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The moon probe has traveled over 3.3 million miles (5.4 million kilometers) on its journey so far, KARI officials have said.

Its six instruments, including one American camera designed to look into the permanently shadowed craters on the Moon, will study the Moon from a polar orbit.

Space Force and South Korea set up joint office to monitor North Korea

The U.S. Space Force has now partnered with a new South Korean Air Force space division to jointly monitor the space-based and military actions of North Korea, including its increasingly aggressive missile testing program.

From the first link:

[Brig. Gen. Anthony Mastalir, commander of the U.S. Space Forces Indo-Pacific.] later told reporters the unit will undergo analysis in the coming months to assess its mission capabilities and said it is interested in holding discussions with South Korea regarding specific future missions, like missile warning and defense.

The new unit is expected to help monitor, detect and trace projectiles from the North and elsewhere in an operation likely to reinforce overall deterrence capabilities of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, observers said.

This new office really isn’t anything new, simply the renaming and reshuffling of the military bureaucracy from the American Air Force to the Space Force. The military has been present in South Korea since the Korean War in the early 1950s, monitoring North Korea. All that has really changed is North Korea’s growing ability to launch missiles, thus changing the focus of that monitoring, combined with South Korea’s recent effort to accelerate its own space effort, both civilian and military.

South Korea’s Danuri lunar orbiter successfully makes course correction

On September 2nd engineers for South Korea’s Danuri lunar orbiter successfully completed a major course correction, firing its engines to adjust its path towards the Moon.

The science ministry announced Sept. 4 that the maneuver was so successful that the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), which controls the spacecraft called Danuri, has decided to skip an additional correction maneuver planned for Sept. 16.

It will reach lunar orbit on December 16th, then make five more orbital adjustments before reaching its science orbit in January. While the spacecraft has instruments from both South Korea and the U.S. for studying the lunar surface, its main goal is to teach South Korea engineers and scientists how to do this.

SpaceX launches South Korea’s Danuri lunar orbiter

SpaceX today successfully launched South Korea’s Danuri lunar orbiter, also called the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter.

The first stage completed its sixth flight, landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic. The fairings completed their fourth flight.

Danuri is now on its way to the Moon, with a planned arrival in lunar orbit on December 16, 2022. It carries six instruments, one of which was developed by NASA. The spacecraft, while designed to study the Moon, is primarily a technology test mission laying the groundwork for more sophisticated interplanetary South Korean missions. More information about the mission can be found here.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

34 SpaceX
28 China
10 Russia
6 Rocket Lab
5 ULA

The U.S. now leads China 49 to 28 in the national rankings, and the entire world combined 49 to 45. With this launch American private enterprise has now surpassed the entire launch total for all of 2021, and has the most launches for the U.S. since 1967, when it completed successfully 57 launches.

Hyundai signs deal with South Korean government research agencies to develop lunar rovers

Capitalism in space: Hyundai today signed an agreement with six different South Korean government research agencies to develop a lunar rover on which those agencies can place their science instruments.

The government-funded research institutes to take part in this joint research are Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, Korea Institute of Civil Engineering and Building Technology, Korea Aerospace Research Institute, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute and Korea Automotive Technology Institute.

This deal is apparently part of South Korea’s effort to expand its space capabilities, with the government directing and funding the program. This deal also suggests that the government there is also emulating the U.S. approach and using the country’s industry to make it happen.

South Korea ships its first lunar orbiter to U.S. for August launch

The new colonial movement: South Korea today packed and shipped its first lunar orbiter, dubbed Danuri, to the United States for an August 3, 2022 launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

According to the Ministry of Science and ICT, Danuri was sent from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute in Daejeon, 160 kilometers south of Seoul, to Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, in a specially designed container. The orbiter will be flown to Orlando International Airport and arrive at the Floridian space center Thursday. It will later undergo maintenance, assembly and other pre-launch preparations for about a month before launch.

If all goes right, Danuri will orbit the Moon for a year, both testing its own technology as well as observing the lunar surface.

South Korea successfully launches its Nuri rocket

The new colonial movement: South Korea today successfully launched its home-built Nuri rocket, placing a test satellite, a dummy satellite, and four university cubesats into orbit.

The government program to build this rocket began in 2010 and cost $616 million, though not all of that money was devoted to the rocket. South Korea’s space agency has four more launches planned through 2027.

This was obviously South Korea’s first launch this year. The leaders in the 2022 launch race thus remain the same:

26 SpaceX
18 China
8 Russia
3 Rocket Lab
3 ULA

American private enterprise now leads China 35 to 18 in the national rankings, and leads the entire world combined 35 to 30.

South Korea reschedules launch to June 21 after fixing sensor issue

The new colonial movement: South Korea space officials from its KARI space agency have now rescheduled the second test launch of their home-built Nuri rocket for June 21st, after replacing a fuel sensor on the rocket that was not working.

ARI said engineers identified the problematic part within the sensor and replaced it, and Kwon said they also found no other problems after inspecting the rest of the rocket. Kwon noted that the rescheduled launch date could be subject to change depending on weather conditions.

This will the second time KARI has attempted an orbital launch of Nuri, with the first experiencing an upper stage failure in October 2021.

South Korea postpones tomorrow’s second test launch of its Nuri rocket

The new colonial movement: Because of unexpected sensor reading in the oxygen tank as the rocket was lifted upright at the launch pad, South Korea has postponed its planned launch tomorrow of its home-built Nuri rocket.

According to KARI [South Korea’s space agency], readings of the oxidizer tank sensor normally change when the rocket is being erected. Readings on Nuri’s sensor, however, did not show any change during the process. “The sensor itself could be problematic, or it could be an issue with the cable or the terminal box,” the official said.

This launch would have been the second attempt to complete an orbital launch, with the first Nuri launch failing in October 2021 when tanks inside the third stage broke free during launch.

South Korea cancels probe to asteroid Apophis

The South Korea government has canceled its proposed unmanned probe to asteroid Apophis that had been designed to reach the asteroid during its ’29 close approach of Earth and fly in formation with it.

The science ministry, which manages state-funded space programs, recently ruled the mission “unfeasible” and decided not to request the $307.7 million budget it initially sought for the mission. … “We’ve decided not to pursue Apophis probe mission because there were various issues making it difficult for the mission to be successful,” Shin Won-sik, a science ministry official, told SpaceNews. “To probe Apophis, we have to launch a spacecraft by 2027 at the latest. But with the rocket and spacecraft-making capabilities we have, it’s unrealistic to launch in time.”

South Korean officials insisted they are not abandoning all future asteroid missions, but merely shifting this effort to other asteroids in which there is less time pressure to launch. Right now they are considering a mission in the mid-2030s, which could also be an asteroid sample return mission.

South Korea’s new president wants bigger space effort closely tied to U.S.

The new president of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol, has made it clear that when he takes office today his policy will be to expand that nation’s space effort while tying that effort more closely with NASA and the U.S. military.

[His goals] include establishing an independent aerospace agency offering integrated management of civil and military space programs in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, home to nearly 100 aerospace companies, and developing a high-power rocket for independent satellite launches in the near term and lunar and Mars exploration in the long-run.

…Yoon has also promised to facilitate the public-to-private transfer of space technologies, reform regulations and launch a space industry cluster to grow the country’s nascent domestic space industry. In line with this, the science ministry recently selected five universities that will be subsidized $4 million each over the next five years in return for running education programs designed to nurture skilled space engineers.

“Countries jockey for position in the space industry to secure a competitive edge in national security and future competitiveness,” Yoon wrote in his election manifesto, pledging to make South Korea “one of seven most advanced space powers in the world by 2035.”

However, the first space-related task of Yoon’s adminstration, which merely accelerates what the previous South Korean government had been doing, will likely be to replace the Russian rockets that South Korea presently has contracts with to launch several satellites.

South Korean smallsat rocket startup to launch first suborbital test flight

Capitalism in space: A new South Korean smallsat rocket startup company, Innospace, is now planning its first suborbital test launch in December, launching a Brazilian military payload from that country’s Alcântara Space Center.

The 16.3-meter, single-stage test rocket is a precursor to the company’s planned commercial satellite launcher Hanbit-Nano, a two-stage small satellite launcher designed to carry up to a 50-kilogram payload to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit. The first stages of the two rockets are powered by a 15-ton-thrust hybrid rocket engine that uses liquid oxygen and paraffin-based propellants. Hanbit-Nano’s upper stage is equipped with a 3-ton hybrid engine, according to the Sejong-based company’s website.

“If the upcoming test launch is successful, we will start preparing for a test launch of Hanbit-Nano,” Innospace spokesperson Kim Jung-hee told SpaceNews.

The company has so far raised almost $28 million in private investment capital. It also has an agreement with Norway to launch its rockets from there.

Since South Korea’s government has its own rocket program, it will be interesting to see which succeeds first in getting into orbit.

South Korea raises its space budget by 19%

The new colonial movement: The South Korean government has decided to further raise its space budget for ’22, increasing the planned budget from what was spent in ’21 by 19%.

About a third of this $619 million budget will be used to develop the country’s home-built rocket. Slightly more than half will finance several different satellite projects. Much of the rest is budgeted for the nation’s planned unmanned probes to the Moon and to the asteroid Apophis.

South Korea to build its own unmanned lunar lander

The new colonial movement: The government of South Korea has begun a project to build its own unmanned lunar lander, scheduled for launch sometime in the 2030s.

South Korea presented an action plan to develop a lunar lander weighing more than 1.5 tons that would carry out scientific research on the surface of the moon in the 2030s. The project is to begin in 2024 after a preliminary feasibility study.

The Ministry of Science and ICT would form a working group of industry-academic experts to conduct research on a lunar lander and draw up strategies and detailed plans by August 2022. It is a follow-up project to launch a lunar orbiter in August 2022. The lunar lander will be lifted by a next-generation homemade rocket.

The goal is to encourage the country’s own aerospace industry. The working group will spend the next month recruiting South Korean companies to join the project.

South Korea however has to first get its own homemade rocket, Nuri, to successfully launch. The first launch attempt in October 2021 failed, and the second has been delayed to fix the cause.

UK bans all space-related exports to Russia

In response to Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, the United Kingdom yesterday announced new sanctions, banning all space-related exports as well as increased sanctions on aviation.

For Russia, this component of these new space sanctions might be the most painful, should something go wrong on one of its launches:

The space export ban includes all related services, including insurance or reinsurance services, U.K. officials said. “This means cover is withdrawn on existing policies and UK insurers and reinsurers will be unable to pay claims in respect of existing policies in these sectors,” wrote in the statement.

This restriction also means that any satellite customers will not be able to claim damages. Thus, customers like South Korea, which still has two launches planned on Russia rockets, will lose everything if the launch fails. Because of this, it is almost certain that it will cancel these launches,

Launch of two South Korean satellites threatened by Russia’s Ukraine war

According to South Korean officials, the launch later this year of two new home-built satellites on Russian rockets is now unlikely because of the sanctions imposed because of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.

South Korea’s CAS500-2 remote sensing satellite is set to launch in the first half of this year on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. South Korea’s KOMPSAT-6 multipurpose satellite, equipped with synthetic aperture radar (SAR), is due to launch in the second half of the year on a Russian Angara rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.

“For now, nothing has changed to the plan,” Korea Aerospace Research Institute spokesman Roh Hyung-il told SpaceNews. “We are taking a close look at how the situation unfolds because it could have a significant impact on our missions.” He admitted that it’s “very likely” that the satellites won’t be launched as planned.

Those officials also said that losing Russia as a launch option will be a “serious blow” to South Korea’s entire space effort. I find that puzzling. There are plenty of other rocket companies now available. Why South Korea feels a need to depend on Russia seems short-sighted.

South Korea pinpoints cause of October launch failure

The new colonial movement: South Korea’s space agency KARI has completed its investigation of the launch failure in October of its first entirely home-built Nuri rocket, revealing that the support structures for the rocket’s helium tanks were designed incorrectly, and allowed the tanks to break free during launch.

“The support structures holding helium tanks inside the third-stage oxidizer tank were not properly designed to account for a force referred to as buoyancy,” KARI said in a Dec. 29 statement. Buoyancy, the upward force exerted by a fluid that pushes an object, rises along with a rocket’s altitude, which was not accounted for, according to KARI.

The helium tanks with the faulty anchors were inside the upper stage’s oxidizer tank, which was filled with liquid oxygen needed for the rocket’s ignition. With the helium tanks coming loose, they disrupted pipelines within the oxidizer tank and led the liquid oxygen to leak, resulting in early termination of the ignition, KARI explained.

The helium is used to keep the tank pressurized as it uses up its oxygen so that oxygen will continue to flow to the engine. Thus, they sit inside the oxygen tanks, and when they came loose they damaged its internal pipes.

Though they can fix the problem, it will likely cause a delay in the second Nuri launch attempt, presently scheduled for May.

South Korean lawmaker proposes his country build a reusable rocket

The new colonial movement: Following a meeting with high space officials, a South Korean lawmaker announced yesterday that his country is now planning the design and construction of a reusable rocket.

“Starting next year, the development of a high-performance reusable rocket with liquid-fueled 100-ton thrust engines will begin,” said Rep. Cho Seung-rae of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, who represents the committee. “Having such a liquid-fueled high-performance rocket engine is necessary [for South Korea] to successfully fulfill the missions of launching a [robotic] lunar lander by 2030 and building the Korea Positioning System by 2035 on its own.”

Cho said the envisioned engine will be “capable of controlling its thrust with four consecutive reburns,” a function which he said would “significantly slash launch cost.” The lawmaker said the government will carry out two-year preliminary research on the issue, with the budget of 12 billion won ($10.2 million) in hand.

South Korea has yet to successfully launch its own homebuilt Nuri rocket, with the first test flight failing less than a month ago.

In addition, this announcement was a surprise, as the budget request for ’22, made in September, had not included it. It appears that this lawmaker and those high space officials teamed up to propose it. We shall see if it gets into the final budget.

South Korea’s new Nuri rocket fails during first launch

The new colonial movement: South Korea’s new Nuri rocket, that country’s first homegrown rocket, failed during launch early today when the payload did not reach its proper orbit.

It appears that the third stage shut down prematurely.

They plan to try again in May ’22.

For a first launch attempt this was actually a large success. Getting the first and second stages to work properly is generally the hardest part of any rocket launch.

The boom in commercial space continues

Starship on an early test flight
Modern rocketry soaring under freedom

Capitalism in space: In the last two days there have been so many stories about different space companies winning new contracts I think it is important to illustrate this in one essay, rather than in multiple posts. Below is the list:

The last two stories are possibly the most significant, because both show that the shift in space from government-built to privately-built, as I advocated in my 2017 policy paper, Capitalism in Space, is spreading to other countries. » Read more

South Korea to launch its own rocket in October

The new colonial movement: South Korea is now targeting October 21, 2021 for the first test launch of its home-built Nuri rocket.

The October flight will be South Korea’s first domestic orbital launch attempt in more than eight years. On Jan. 30, 2013, a Naro-1 rocket placed the STSAT-2C technology demonstration satellite into low Earth orbit.

It was the final of three launches for now retired Naro-1, which consisted of a Russian Angara first stage with a downgraded engine and a South Korean developed solid-fuel upper stage. Two previous Naro-1 launches failed in 2009 and 2010.

They have also scheduled a follow-up test launch in May ’22, assuming all goes well on this first test launch.

South Korea signs the Artemis Accords

On May 24 South Korea officially signed the Artemis Accords, joining nine other countries in the agreement designed as a work around of the Outer Space Treaty’s provisions in order to protect property rights in space.

By my count, that makes eight signatories, including Japan, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and Italy.

Essentially, the space-faring nations of the world are splitting into two groups, those who will follow these accords, and those who won’t, led by China and Russia. In a sense, we are seeing a renewal of the Cold War in space, with the western powers that believe in private enterprise and freedom aligned against those whose cultures are authoritarian and ruled from above.

South Korea’s leader announces his nation’s goals in space

The new colonial movement: Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president since 2017, on March 25th gave his first speech focused on his nation’s goals in space, outlining plans to encourage private enterprise as well as achieving an unmanned mission to the Moon by 2030.

His speech listed three main programs. First, they are developing their own home-built rocket, dubbed the KSLV-2, which they hope to launch on its first orbital test flight by October of this year.

Second, he touted a project to send a probe to the asteroid Apophis in 2029. I described this probe in my November 2020 report on a science conference focused entirely on Apophis. If all goes well, they hope to have the probe fly in formation with the asteroid as it makes its close approach that year.

Third, he committed his nation to landing an unmanned lander on the Moon by the end of this decade. (Sound familiar?)

While much of this was the typical photo-op stuff that politicians love, designed mostly to enhance their public image, Moon did make it clear their goals are also to foster a new private aerospace industry that would compete in the emerging new space market.

Moon underscored the role of the private sector in enhancing Korea’s space development capabilities. To that end, he said, the government will step up efforts to build an “innovative industrial ecosystem that nurtures global space companies such as SpaceX.”

Another issue he put forth was strengthening international competitiveness of made-in-Korea satellite systems, in the lead-up to the introduction of 6G wireless networks, self-driving vehicles, and other products and services enabled or enhanced by satellites.

All-in-all, it is actually surprising that up to now South Korea has not made its presence felt in space. This announcement suggests they now intend to change that.

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